When shoes aren’t a given, Metsam ’12 steps in
By Chad Hollis
Published on Monday, February 22, 2010
Dartmouth basketball forward Herve Metsam ’12 learned to shoot a basketball before he owned a pair of sneakers. At the age of 15, he played barefoot pick-up games in his hometown — Ebolowa, Cameroon.
“It was painful,” Metsams said. “I don’t know how many injuries I had because I was playing barefoot on the concrete. When I started to play with shoes, I felt way more secure.”
Knowing that thousands of children around Ebolowa shared the same experience, Metsam decided to provide them with the opportunity to play sports with the proper footwear.
“After being in the [United States] for a year and a half, I kind of forgot how it was back home,” he said. “It was amazing when I went back home that I had a bunch of my friends who were still unable to play because they didn’t have shoes. I would walk the town and see just a bunch of kids playing soccer barefoot. I told myself I needed to do something about this.”
Metsam came to the U.S. when he accepted a full academic scholarship to attend Canterbury School in Connecticut before his junior year of high school, The Dartmouth previously reported.
After observing the number of unused shoes at Dartmouth, Metsam decided to start a shoe drive. Calling his project Heart of the World — or Coeur du Monde — Metsam collected 200 pairs of shoes and donated them to the children of his hometown during a two-day camp in the summer of 2009, which he organized.
This year, Metsam plans to return to Cameroon again for another camp. He will return with hundreds of additional shoes because all eight Ivies have committed to participate in the event.
Metsam recalled his first time in the basketball locker room, when he saw a large bag of old shoes.
“I remember asking a teammate what we are going to do with these shoes, and he told me they were going to throw them away,” he said. “I said to him, ‘I know people who can use these shoes.’”
During the camp, the children learned sports fundamentals and attended lectures about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. The campers who received shoes ranged from eight to 21-years-old.
HIV is a very personal subject for Metsam. In Ebolowa, 6.7 percent of all children are infected with the disease, and Metsam lost his father to the disease during the summer of 2009.
“I talked to doctors back home,” he said. “They told me HIV is a very common issue among young people. A lot of them don’t want to do the testing because there is a big stigma on the disease. People with HIV are almost an outcast from society.”
The camp featured appearances from local doctors, teachers and government officials who talked to the children about a variety of topics. Local doctors gave free HIV/AIDS screenings to all interested campers.
To raise HIV awareness, Metsam balanced serious talks about personal health with fun exhibition games in a variety of sports. In addition to basketball, the kids learned about and played volleyball, handball, tennis and soccer.
Metsam said he decided to offer an assorted selection of sports to draw a larger and more diverse group of campers, although soccer is the sport of choice in Cameroon. He added that he knew a lot of athletic children who might be able to find a new passion if they were introduced to a new sport.
While organizing the camp, Metsam received help from several Ebolowa residents. His former basketball coach helped to promote the camp and gather the children for the two day event.
Metsam was also able to obtain funding from FedEx. After reading Metsam’s letter explaining the Heart of the World shoe drive and its relation to HIV/AIDS awareness, FedEx agreed to ship the donated shoes from Hanover to Cameroon free of charge.
This year, Metsam will have additional help collecting shoes from the Dartmouth community. The boxes used to collect shoes were donated by Dartmouth Dining Services workers in Food Court. Athletic equipment mangers have also donated numerous pairs of shoes to Metsam.
Dartmouth’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee is also lending a hand. The SAAC is an NCAA organization founded to promote student athlete wellbeing and to promote positive images of student athletes on campus. Members of the organization are promoting the shoe drive and collecting the shoes from various drop boxes around campus.
“We thought it would be really awesome if we could get Dartmouth athletes to be involved in this project,” Dartmouth SAAC president Catherine Armstrong ’10 said. “For us, athletics is such an important part in our lives, and they have really helped us become more healthy and make good decisions. We wanted to share that experience and give that opportunity to others.”
Heart of the World is completely student-run. Metsam and the SAAC have planned and executed every element of the project.
“It absolutely amazes me that our students can do this,” SAAC faculty advisor Anne Hudak said. “I’m not surprised, but their accomplishments are amazing. It makes me proud to be part of the athletic department and it makes me proud of the students here because they can put these things together.”
During a meeting in Sept. 2009, the Ivy League SAAC wanted to support a charity, and Dartmouth SAAC representative Kyle Battle ’11 proposed Heart of the World to the entire league.
“With President Kim coming in this year and his initiative with health care, we thought we would get a lot of support not only from the Dartmouth community but from the other Ivy League schools as well,” SAAC member Katie Horner ’11 said.
Because of the importance of shoes and their impact on children, the Ivy League SAAC decided to chose Heart of the World. Metsam’s project is now active at every Ivy League school.
Columbia junior Natalia Christenson — the Ivy League SAAC representative to the NCAA Division I SAAC — said the charitable effort is a unique way for the Ivies to come together.
“We were looking to select a charity where it would be feasible for all eight schools to participate in an equal way,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to help promote the efforts of one our fellow student athletes. When we all get together, it’s usually for competition.”
The SAACs in the Ivy League have placed shoe donation boxes in several locations around their respective campuses and sent e-mails to student-athletes asking for shoe donations.
Every Ivy League track and field team will deliver its school’s donated shoes to Dartmouth during track and field’s Heptagonal Championships on Feb. 27-28.
“The great thing about this charity is that we have never really had one event that all eight Ivies have been able to get behind,” Yale SAAC representative David Smith said. “In addition to all the good it will do for the kids in Africa, it will help bring together the eight Ivy schools as a whole.”
Because of the added support, Metsam plans to increase the scope of the project this year. With the extra shoes, he plans to visit several of the smaller towns across the Ebolowan countryside. Many children from these areas are unable to visit the city to attend the camp and get free shoes.
With the Ivy League SAAC’s involvement, Metsam hopes to continue Heart of the World after he graduates. He eventually wants to turn the project into a non-profit organization that will continue to give out shoes around Cameroon, he said.
“I tied the project to the SAAC to ensure the sustainability of the project,” Metsam said. “They can run the same project even when I’m not here.”
The Ivy League SAAC has committed to continue its participation in the project. Like Metsam, members at the other schools plan to expand their efforts every year.
“We’re all passionate about working towards [growing the project],” Christenson said. “I think it’s one of those projects that we have the potential to make it even bigger the second or third time we do it. The kickoff event is always a little shaky in getting full participation, but once everyone knows what it’s about, it makes the second and third time a little easier.”
This year’s shoe drive has been a success, Metsam said. Although the numbers from other schools are not yet official, the Dartmouth community has nearly replicated last year’s 200 pairs of donated shoes.
Metsam is still looking for donations of old shoes, which can be left at one of the SAAC drop boxes located in Floren Field House, Davis training room and Alumni Gym.